Interview with Kildare Dobbs on the upcoming Casanova in Venice

Caleigh Minshall

Here’s the second interview in my ‘‘Interviews at the Toronto Small Press Fair’’ series. Kildare Dobbs is a prestigious Canadian journalist, poet, writer, gentleman-at-large. He has a number of publications under his belt, but this will be his first work with PQL. Casanova in Venice is a mock-heroic epic poem that (not surprisingly) follows the eighteenth century legend’s exploits and, quite frankly, exploitation of other people — women, husbands and the law. It’s hilarious, and doubly so when paired up with the playful and raunchy illustrations of Wesley Bates. Casanova in Venice, ‘‘reflections on a myth: a raunchy rhyme,’’ is a treat to read and, like for The Book of Hours, Tim assigned me to writing the promotional copy for its upcoming release in Fall 2010 — so Kildare Dobb’s presence at the Toronto Small Press Fair was a fantastic coincidence.

My interview with Kildare wasn’t quite as successful as my interview with George: we kept veering far off topic and into the wilderness. Now, this was fine by me — Kildare is a fantastic conversationalist — but my material on Casanova in Venice isn’t as in-depth as what I have on The Book of Hours Nevertheless, here are the results of our hour spent at the bar.

Did you ever consider writing about anyone else?

It was a very strange thing. I had written another long poem, and then I was looking for another public myth for my next subject — you always need a pre-existing myth to write a long poem. I was talking to a friend, Rick Greene, and I said to him: Give me a subject! He said, ‘Well, you’re always talking about Casanova staring at the vegetables. Why don’t you write about him?’

And what is your opinion on Casanova: dashing or exploitative?

Genuinely, I’m not sure! Casanova’s a first-rate con-man. But he’s a very impressive one. Frederick the Great, Voltaire — they all met him and were impressed. And despite his adventures, like almost everyone else, Casanova had a sad old age. He was a librarian in a remote chateau in Bohemia, I think.

What drew you to writing in this style?

Well, a recent study showed that a lot of people say they don’t get poetry; they think it’s just self-expression. I’m not into self-expression. I’m not into sentimentality of any kind. This is a story, a myth, not self-expression, and I think the style reflects that.

How does Casanova contribute to the satirical tradition of poetry from the eighteenth century and earlier?

I just love that poetry! Byron, Childe Harolde. Byron was a typical minority, very heavily in debt, but Childe Harolde was so popular — the bestseller of the day. Casanova in Venice makes some humourous connections and reference to Byron’s poetry and style. And, like in Byron’s poetry, I made some attempt at giving Casanova a mythological resonance. Wit and fancy rhyme — that’s the beginning of a poem you should read — I’ll email it to you later this week. I was also influenced by the octosyllabic couplet that Jonathan Swift used. Really, the preface to the book will be very important for telling people how to read it.

Are there any modern issues that you are trying to address in this poem?

There is certainly an implied satire of commercial republics, including the one that is very close to us. That is probably a sub-theme worth underlining, actually. The Venetians were grossly commercial, just like many of us.

There are at least two voices bantering throughout the poem. Did you have a specific objective in mind in writing from these different perspectives? For example, a poetic perspective versus a layman perspective?

That’s exactly right. Lately I have been writing material that is the opposite of my own views; that’s what happens when you write fiction, even in verse. I write poetry that I disagree with.

So you don’t associate yourself with one of the voices?

Oh, yes, I do. I relate to the eighteenth century poet!

Could you tell me more about the illustrations accompanying the book?

Well, the agents hate poetry because it doesn’t make any money, but my agent kept at it and showed it to everyone. No one would take it until The Porcupine’s Quill, which is the perfect publisher because I wanted illustration. I love Wesley’s work. He’s got the right idea, which is raunchy but not obscene.

Who or what are you writing for?

I do think of it as being performed, as if there is an actual audience. Performance, though. Don’t just get up there and mutter the way most poets do.

Any last comments?

Tell them it’s funny! Sell it as entertaiment! It is poetry, though. If you can get it condemned by a Cardinal, that would be good.

And I will tell you: it’s terribly funny. Casanova in Venice is coming out in Fall 2010, so keep your eyes peeled. Maybe by then we’ll even get it condemned.

By the way, I’m going to make my sign-off a permanent link to my email address. If you ever have any questions or comments, email me and I’ll post them to the blog! (With a response, of course.) Tomorrow: What I’ve learned about author interviews.

Caleigh Minshall

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.